Want a good Windows experience? Focus on the hardware first

Someone recently asked me what version of Windows I recommend deploying on a system. They highlighted the different versions of Windows available, including Enterprise SKUs, Windows 10 Pro, and Windows 10 Home. For most small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) and home users, I recommend Windows 10 or 11 Pro — which you can upgrade to even if you initially buy Windows 10 or 11 Home. Professional gives you more control over updates and exposes local group policies so you can control more things in the operating system.

Another important point is to make sure that the computer you buy has the correct hardware. In particular, this means having a solid state drive (SSD).

The other day I was helping someone set up a new PC with Windows 11 and realized again how important it is to have an SSD. After booting, the PC’s mechanical hard drive was fixed at 100% disk usage and the system was pretty much unusable. I opened Device Manager and confirmed my suspicions: the drive was not an SSD. I let the system sit for a while – a long time – until disk usage was reasonable. While the laptop had enough RAM, it clearly didn’t have the proper hard drive for Windows 11 (or even Windows 10).

Another issue with buying PCs right now is supply chain constraints; some companies have to buy equipment with any Windows version, then upgrade.

Most likely, you will only find systems with Windows 11 Home, not Windows 10, in stores. Although Windows 11 is still a work in progress, it can be tamed through the use of third-party tools such as Start11, which reverts the menu system to what is like Windows 10. If you decide to keep the system centered menus of Windows 11, be aware that Microsoft is in the process of make more changes to the Start menu system and the task manager in response to comments. Once you have purchased Windows 11 Home, you can easily purchase an upgrade to Windows 11 Professionalwhich makes it easier to defer feature releases, pause updates, and set update settings rather than having to use registry keys or other workarounds.

If you are deploying Windows 11 as a small business or for a home office, you may encounter issues with older hardware, such as home NAS devices that rely on SMB version 1 file sharing. Going forward, Windows 11 will ship with SMBv1 disabled, which means you may need to throw away your old – and probably now unsupported – NAS devices or find a way to enable SMBv2 or SMBv3 to continue using them. My advice: find a community forum for your NAS device and you should get some concrete advice on whether to retire the old system or remove it from your network.

If you’re a small business with 300 users or less and need a license for an Office suite, I suggest you look into Microsoft Enterprise Premium. It includes the latest version of Office hosted email and, most importantly, several tools for additional protection and support. In particular, it includes Azure AD p1 which allows you to configure conditional access based on device status or location and group. (This is useful for setting multi-factor authentication policies that trigger when someone logs in from a risky location or performs risky actions.) And it includes Defender for Business, a detection and remediation tool endpoints that extends to Microsoft Defender Antivirus; it actually tracks actions on a workstation and sends alerts about any malicious activity.

Additionally, it also offers actionable tasks to increase network security, such as making sure third-party software on my network is patched and attack surface reduction (ASR) rules are enabled. ASRs can provide additional protection for a network, which makes your system more resistant to attacks. If you are a business with more than 300 users, Microsoft offers two additional enterprise licenses, an E3 or an E5. These versions offer even more security features. You can purchase the operating system license alone or combine it with the Microsoft 365 License Suite for extra protection for Office.

As a reminder: choosing the best version of Windows will depend on the additional security features you want. It’s usually easy to upgrade or downgrade to a version of Windows that best suits your needs once you’ve installed your hardware. But upgrading hardware isn’t always easy, and buying the wrong laptop or PC can lock you into an unsatisfying computing experience. So before you worry about which version of Windows you need, go with the best hardware you can get. Then you’ll be well prepared to run whatever version of Windows 10 or 11 you want.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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